I came across an article today priding itself on the subject of wind energy subsidies in the US and why investing in them any longer would be tantamount to breaking the law, and boy does the author do it with some vigour and confidence. Unfortunately, and I really doubt I will be the only one thinking the same thing, most of what this person writes is founded on ignorance, scientific falsehoods and a basic hatred for wind energy in any of its forms.
The article, titled ‘We Must Stop Subsidising Wind Power’, which you can find in the link at the end of this post, focuses on a myriad of detrimental effects the Federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a hotly debated topic currently, as it stands to be shelved come the end of 2012, with so far no hope of a successor. While there are many powerful and well-informed societies, associations and individuals lobbying for its extension, its pieces like this which seriously undermine rational thinking.
Supposedly, American wind energy, and by logical assumption, the entire industry, is unreliable, severely expensive, economically damaging and highly dangerous to the environment, seemingly to the same degree that oil and coal are; a real and direct threat to the green side of life. It is simply deemed ‘not environmentally safe’. What an absolute load.
Let’s start with the first point, wind’s unreliability and thus pointlessly impractical employment as an energy source. The crux of the argument here is that due to the natural flux in wind strength and speed, turbines are entirely dependent upon fossil-fuel based sources to prop them up (I know) and therefore the price of this is passed onto consumers like you and me. Aside from this, it isn’t helping us reduce our emissions nearly as much as we hoped.
Yes, wind is unreliable as a quantity, just like market prices for fossil fuels or the accessibility of reserves, but this hasn’t stopped wind becoming THE primary renewable energy source worldwide, demonstrating the biggest growth rates and deployment percentages of any type. Not only this, but some of the leaders of free political-thinking in regards to clean energy sources have proven this is not the issue it is made out to be. Germany for instance powers over 8% of it’s needs through wind, and has demonstrated that the apparent reliance on oil or gas for baseload on the grid is not true; wind and solar alone can power a nation if handled rationally and smartly, something the US is quickly catching onto. Only last year, the US installed almost 7GW of wind, up 31% on 2010, and could meet 10% of energy requirements in six greedy states, a hell of a lot more than most, and installation prices have also dropped, hitting just $2.1 per watt, down 10 cents on 2010.
With smarter systems, demand-response software and upgraded grids, all technology which is not only well established and on the rise but relatively cheap to put in place, the apparent issues with fluctuating wind and lulls in power can be negated almost completely. Combine this with CCGTs and solar, a nation as hungry as America can happily guzzle electricity without so much as a mention of oil, coal or shale ‘something’.
Onto the next point, the economic damage placed upon the taxpayer and American public because of the PTC and wind energy. The article claims that billions of dollars were wasted being pumped into the industry, and that just 2% of US energy production comes from wind, both on and offshore. The figure is actually more like 3.1%, enough to power the Netherlands, and a huge figure when put into the perspective of the size and demands the US have; 3% equals roughly 50GW of installed capacity, making America a leader in wind energy produced, and far from the disastrous attempt this piece implicates. In this respect, money has not been wasted at all, and if anything, would likely have been used for far worse ventures if the PTC wasn’t in place, such as funding new fracking projects, importing more fossil fuels or tackling the Chinese on all fronts of trade.
The author also states that wind power is shedding jobs by the thousands due to the PTC and as an industry is unstable and highly damaging to the US job market. While the fact that jobs are being lost in this sector, it is the context which is conveniently absent in this article which is so desperately needed to make sense of it all. Since 2005 the PTC has driven rapid and massive growth in wind energy, but with the end of the policy in sight and many still arguing over what will happen next, companies and manufacturers are having to layoff workers in attempts to predict what will happen post-2012. Without a solid policy, the wind industry could momentarily collapse, and no doubt companies are attempting to prepare for this coming storm. It is not the presence of the PTC causing the job loss, but the fact that soon its absence could kill confidence in the industry.
If anything, domestic projects and manufacturing has actually increased, with 67% of the equipment used coming from within American borders, up 7% on 2010, with over 500 US factories now producing for the wind industry. If there’s anything the US public like is hearing that stuff being made and sourced from home soil is successfully building a strong business and job sector. Of course, this isn’t mentioned in this article, which merely focuses on the out-of-context job losses.
The final sweeping point tackles the so-called environmental hazards associated with wind energy, specifically the towers/turbines, and is undoubtedly the point which boils my blood and showcases the author’s real ignorance on the subject.
Quoting some vague and brief numbers on birds and bats killed annually by wind turbines, the entire industry is branded unsafe for the environment and an evil on par with carbon-belching fossil fuels. While it may certainly be true that tens of thousands of birds or bats are killed by spinning blades each year, again a small amount of context is required. In the same period, literally millions of birds are killed by cars on the road, or by house-trained cats all over the nation, or by simply flying into windows or buildings, and no doubt many of these ‘killers’ ring true with bat deaths as well, and yet I don’t see us complaining or banning them?
Obviously the deaths of these species is not a good thing, but when considered in the wider light of things, to protest and halt wind development on the grounds of such small figures is entirely ridiculous and narrow-minded, especially when it is now common practice for energy companies and wind developers to carry out ‘bat studies’ in the proposed areas to limit damage to populations. If you’re attempting to discredit wind energy through environmental means, at least try mentioning ‘health effects’ or the apparent warming of nighttime winds seen in Texas, which although are just as easily debunked as this, offer slightly more scientific rigour to the debate.
Just to finish this off, I want to say that my main angle here was to show you that context and perspective are key in these sort of situations. Most, if not all of the points made in this anti-wind article are biased and just one side of the coin, and when put under proper analysis, come out the other end much weaker and less convincing than going in. Wind is not unreliable to the point of uselessness, it is not horribly expensive and terrible for jobs, and it most certainly is not damaging to the environment, on any scale.
The PTC has been, and hopefully will continue to be a powerful force in giving wind energy the kickstart it needs to tower above other energy sources, but even without such policy, the industry will go on, getting stronger each year. Wind is almost at the point now, where removing subsidies and letting it fly would do little to damage it, with prices so close to grid parity that you would be foolish to ignore it. America practically leads the world in wind capacity and installation, surely the American people don’t want to see that medal slip out of their hands because of a few people like Romney or Ryan?